The Lupus Research Alliance is pleased to announce the 2023 recipients of the Career Development and Postdoctoral Awards to Promote Diversity in Lupus Research. The Diversity in Lupus Research Awards aim to foster the development of outstanding, underrepresented minority scientists and establish a diverse community of researchers and clinicians in the field of lupus.
Lupus is a debilitating autoimmune disorder, and the prevalence, severity of symptoms, and mortality are higher among people of color. Yet a recent report by the National Science Foundation showed that while "Blacks or African Americans, Hispanics or Latinos, and American Indians or Alaska Natives represent 30% of the employed U.S. population, they are 23% of the scientific workforce."
Addressing these disparities will require a diverse workforce to ensure equitable opportunities and optimal health outcomes. To foster the development of talented underrepresented minority early-career scientists, postdoctoral fellows, and research trainees, the LRA launched a comprehensive Diversity in Lupus Research Program last year that has already supported 21 researchers in the lupus field. We see great promise in the work these talented professionals are doing and are encouraged by their commitment to lupus research."
Teodora Staeva, PhD, LRA Chief Scientific Officer
This year, four individuals will be awarded the Career Development Award, which provides up to $600,000 over four years to talented underrepresented minority scientists. The recipients are Alí Duarte-García, MD, Mayo Clinic, Maria Gutierrez-Arcelus, PhD, Boston Children's Hospital, Ekemini Ogbu, MD, MSc, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, and Jessica Williams, MD, MPH., Emory University. Additionally, one talented postdoctoral research fellow, Shady Younis, PhD, from Stanford University, is the recipient of the Postdoctoral Award. This award provides fellows with up to $170,000 over two years to support the generation of data and progress needed to become independent lupus researchers.
Career Development Award to Promote Diversity in Lupus Research Recipients:
Alí Duarte-García, MD, Mayo Clinic – Standardizing Glucocorticoid Treatment
Dr. Duarte-García will investigate the effectiveness and safety of different glucocorticoid regimens and prescribing patterns based on factors including race/ethnicity to develop a much-needed standardized regimen and reduce racial disparities in glucocorticoid prescribing. Through studying a large, multiethnic cohort of patients with lupus nephritis and leveraging data from multiple clinical trials, he aims to optimize the benefits of glucocorticoid therapy while reducing infections, mortality, and other conditions that can develop with glucocorticoid use.
Maria Gutierrez-Arcelus, PhD, Boston Children's Hospital – Understanding Lupus Heterogeneity
Dr. Gutierrez-Arcelus will test if the marked heterogeneity of lupus – the variation in how the disease differs from person to person – can be attributed to mutations affecting particular genes. Specifically, she is studying if some of these mutations disrupt alternative splicing -- a process by which a product of a single gene is cut and joined in different combinations to produce different proteins with distinct structures and functions, producing a different protein that affects how immune cells mediate immune responses.
Ekemini Ogbu, MD, MSc, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center – Identifying Stroke in Pediatric Lupus
Dr. Ogbu will identify potential biomarkers that could distinguish children with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and strokes from other pediatric cases of strokes to determine early indicators of increased risk. Findings from her study could enable healthcare providers to prevent, monitor and better manage stroke in children with lupus and improve stroke outcomes.
Jessica Williams, MD, MPH, Emory University – Addressing Barriers to Lupus Research Participation in Rural Areas
Dr. Williams will survey patients with lupus in rural Georgia to determine the particular barriers to enrollment in lupus research and whether environmental and social risk factors for lupus are associated with the geographic clustering of patients in this region. Dr. Williams aims to address how the obstacles to treatment, access, and research participation faced by people living in rural areas could be overcome to promote adequate representation in lupus clinical trials.
Postdoctoral Award to Promote Diversity in Lupus Research Recipient:
Shady Younis, PhD, Stanford University – Investigating How Epstein-Barr Virus Triggers Lupus
Dr. Younis will investigate how Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV) infection impacts antibody-producing B cells, an immune cell type often dysregulated in SLE. Dr. Younis will use cutting-edge tools to assess the molecular changes in EBV-infected B cells compared to uninfected B cells to provide insight into how EBV transforms B cells to become pathogenic, or disease-causing, in SLE. Findings from this study will further our understanding of how viral infection promotes SLE and could lead to the identification of potential therapeutics.
Teodora Staeva, PhD, said, "We congratulate the recipients of the 2023 Diversity in Lupus Research Awards, which were created to promote an outstanding, diverse scientific pool of lupus researchers. We look forward to seeing how their studies progress toward understanding the mechanisms underlying lupus and developing novel treatment approaches."